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"I want you to smack me hard on the cheek and then walk away. It'd be a big help."
She scanned my face, then looked over to the gawking boys in the corner. "No."
She crossed her arms and leaned back, looking out the window at the blazing midday parking lot. Her fudgesicle sat warming on its wrapper. There was no right answer, I realized, for her in this.
"I'm sorry," I said, reaching a hand across the table. "I'm Myles."
"Agatha," she said and shook it. The guys hooted and whistled behind me.
"Don't listen to them," I said and she smacked me hard across the face. It was loud and painful, and she walked away as I sat there alone in a plastic cafeteria chair.
Cuppo and Sausage were silent. From across the room I saw her leaning against the wall, beaming back at me. Her teeth were so finely orthodontiaed that they looked, top and bottom, like single strips of ivory.
This was before you were gone, believe it or not, nearly a year before, and I'm starting here so that you get a clear idea of where I was all that time. I wonder if the lives of teenagers are ever as inscrutable to their parents as we assume they are. There's a chance that you knew all of this, that you watched it carefully from afar, as unfazed by it as by those years of diaper changing that you apparently endured without complaint. But you couldn't have known everything, since the facts only show the very tip of things, and, like learning later the make and model of the convertible that ran you over, or the woman's name who was driving — or even that she has dyed red hair and wears sunglasses in the vegetable aisle at Grand Union and lives alone on Salt Pond Road in a house that should sleep 30 — there's so much more, always, left to understand.
I looked for her later that week in school and when I finally found her it was in the parking lot after the buses had left with the mobs, and the only people there were the sporty kids, counting off their stretches like sad little militias on the green patchwork of lawns. Her bags, three of them, were full of SAT prep books, about as heavy and interesting as the yellow pages, so I offered to help her carry them to her car.
There we talked about the pros and cons of early decision, about how Cuppo's father, the one-time head of an international corporation, had left his family and moved to Vermont for a man, but if she told anyone I swore I'd kill her. We talked until our cars were the only two left in the parking lot, until my feet hurt from standing, until my left shoulder ached from my backpack, then my right, until the sky overhead turned an autumn gold, then red, then navy.
In that parking lot, under a sky like black ice, with my hands shoved stiffly in my sweatshirt pockets, I could see Agatha was waiting for it. My last and only kiss had been in the seventh grade, when I had ghostly wisps in my pits and a chest as pink as the day I was born. She came toward me with her eyelids down, smiling. She didn't open her mouth when she touched it to mine, all electric and buzzing. I could feel the blood throbbing in my throat. My balls were heavy as lead.
• • • • •
When I was young, no more than seven, you took me out to run errands for Mom. Do you remember this? It was the first time I could remember being alone with you outside of the house. We were doing what Mom and I would normally do, but it was with you and therefore it was different. We went through the grocery aisles backwards, we bought lunch instead of making it, we made a stop at a hardware store that smelled sharply of sawdust. You bought caulk and I loved its dispenser because it was shaped like a gun.
Because I was good, we went to the beach and you took me out on the sailboat. Do you remember this? It must've been October, the sky was opaque and gray, the water like cement churning, but we sailed anyway. First you caulked the hull, then, because I was good, we sailed through the thickening gray into evening.
• • • • •
Here's the truth: after Agatha Berger and I kissed I lied about it to Cuppo, and to Sausage, and to anyone else who may've asked. Something changed. I noticed her pear shape, the smooth excess skin that gathered beneath her chin like a gel cushion when she laughed. I was embarrassed. I don't know why. The day after we kissed she came up behind me while I was eating with Sausage and put her hands over my eyes.
"Who is it?" I said.
There was nothing. I could tell by Sausage's silence that he wasn't amused.